Gretchen demands at least one Saturday a month off from work, and to be honest, I’m sort of glad she does. For me, this particular Saturday afternoon, as it turned out, was just myself at my home in Great Falls, Virginia, with nobody there for company but my cat, Twinkle. My girlfriend, Cerise, had decided to attend a demonstration of Venetian glass making at Glen Echo, Maryland and my accidental room mate, Veronica, was away at a beach resort in the Lesser Antilles with her latest mark, yet another K Street lobbyist. So, Twinkle purred contentedly on my lap as I relaxed in the living room in front of a crackling oak and hickory fire, about halfway through a glass of Balvenie 21 and the latest edition of the Atlantic, when the phone rang. Caller ID indicated the mobile cell phone belonging to Ron Paul, former member of the House of Representatives, and consequently – Saturday afternoon, fireplace, scotch, magazine and pussycat notwithstanding – I answered.
Tom: Hello? Congressman Paul?
Female Voice: No, no, it’s not him. He’s my father-in-law. This is Kelley Paul, Rand Paul’s wife.
Tom: I see. Ah… you’re using his cell phone?
Kelley: I’m borrowing it for a few minutes. It’s okay – he gave me your number, actually. This is Tom Collins with whom I’m speaking, by the way, isn’t it?
Tom: Yes ma’am. And how may I help you?
Kelley: Oh, yes, that… um… well, I guess you’ve heard about Rand’s filibuster last Wednesday?
Tom: Madame, other than winter storm Saturn, your husband’s thirteen-hour speech on the US Senate floor was the biggest story in Washington this week.
Kelley: Oh, goodie, goodie gumdrops! I’m so glad to hear that!
Tom: Yes, his extended polemic against the appointment of John Brennan as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency made quite a splash, no doubt about it. His performance has received positive reviews not only from the right, but from progressives on the left as well. As a matter of fact, right now the whole town is abuzz with chatter and rumors concerning your husband’s possible run for the presidency in 2016.
Kelly: Really? In that case, I’m so happy to know that everyone is recognizing my husband’s considerable potential.
Tom: Well, in any event, everyone now recognizes his considerable potential to, as he put it, “Speak as long as it takes, until the alarm is sounded from coast to coast that our Constitution is important, that your rights to trial by jury are precious, that no American should be killed by a drone on American soil without first being charged with a crime, without first being found to be guilty by a court.”
Kelly: Uh… yes… very… inspiring words.
Tom: Or, as he later put it, “I think Americans do realize that the protections of having a jury trial are incredibly important and that assessing guilt is not always easy when you’re accused of a crime. I think that Americans do know that it’s really important to try to get it right when someone is accused of a crime, and so I think the American people are with us in wanting to find these answers, and this isn’t, ultimately, only about the nomination. This is about a question that’s bigger than any individual, and it’s about something that our country was founded upon, and that’s basically individual rights.”
Kelly: Definitely… um… insightful and powerful ideas. He was certainly asking all the right questions.
Tom: Indeed – such questions as, “What is the standard that will be used in America? If we are to have drone strikes in America, what is the standard that we will use? Is it a standard that says that you have to be suspicious or that you have to be associated? Strikes targeting those people, usually groups of such people, are what we call signature strikes. The bulk of the CIA’s drone strikes are signature strikes now, which is a remarkable thing. So what we’re talking about – and that’s one of the reasons why we’re concerned here, because if the President claims that he can do strikes in America and the bulk of the current strikes overseas are signature strikes, wouldn’t it be worrisome that we could kill people in America without even knowing their name?”
Kelley: Yes… very… thought provoking.
Tom: Quite, as when your husband proclaimed, “So the question is: Is this the kind of standard we will use in the United States? Will we use a standard where people don’t have to be named? We don’t know. The president has indicated that his drone strikes in America will have different rules than his drone strikes outside of America but we’ve heard no rules on what those drone strikes will be. So we have drone strikes inside and outside. They’re going to have different rules. But we already know that a large percentage of the drone strikes overseas were not naming the person. Is that going to be the standard inside the United States? We also know that we have targeted people just for merely sympathizing with the enemy. We talked about that before. In the 1960’s, we had many people who sympathized with North Vietnam. Many people will remember Jane Fonda, swiveling herself around on North Vietnamese artilleries and thinking gleefully that she was just right at home with the North Vietnamese. Now, while I’m not a great fan of Jane Fonda, I’m really not so interested in putting her on a drone kill list either.”
Kelley: And he wouldn’t be, either, because my husband is a great humanitarian, you know.
Tom: I’m sure he is, as evidenced by his further remarks, in which he said, “There have been people who are against the government on occasion. What are the criteria for who will be killed? Does the Fifth Amendment apply? Will the list be secret or not secret? Can you kill noncombatants? And people say, well, the President would never kill noncombatants. The problem is, is that’s who we’re killing overseas. Now, we are alleging that they may be conspiring someday in the future to be combatants or they might have been combatants yesterday, but are we going to take that same kind of standard and use it in America? Are we going to have a standard that if you’re, you know, on your iPad typing e-mails in a cafe, that you can be targeted for a drone strike? These are – these are not questions that are inconsequential. These are questions that should be known and these are questions that should be public. These are questions that should be discussed in Congress. These are questions – in fact, we shouldn’t be asking the Obama administration for drone memos. We should be giving it drone memos. We shouldn’t be asking Brennan how he’s going to run the drone program. We should be telling him how he’s to run the drone program. That is our authority. We’ve abdicated our authority. We have – we don’t do what we’re supposed to. We are supposed to be the checks and balances, but we’ve let the President make these decisions because we have largely abdicated our responsibility. In this Spencer Ackerman story from Wired, Mr. Ackerman talks about and goes on to say, ‘fundamentally, though, it’s a question of policy. Whether it’s acceptable for the CIA to kill someone without truly knowing if that person is the bomb smith or the laundry guy. The CIA’s willingness to strike without such knowledge, sanctioned in full by President Barack Obama, is causing problems for the State Department and the military. As we’ve written this week,’” – here, Mr. Ackerman uses the royal “we” (which, in addition to royalty, is also acceptable for journalists and people with tapeworm) – “‘the high volume of drone attacks in Pakistani tribal areas contributes to Pakistani intransigence on another issue of huge importance to the US, than of convincing Pakistan to deliver the insurgent groups it sponsors to peace talks aimed at ending the Afghan war. The drones don’t cause that intransigence. Pakistani leaders, after all, cooperate with the drones and exploit popular anti-American sentiment to shake down Washington. The strike – the strikes become cards for Pakistan to play, however cynically.’ And I think that’s quite true of Pakistan, they play both sides to the middle and they play both sides to get more money from us. I think they have been complicit in the drone attacks and then they complain about them publicly.”
“They have two faces: One – one to their people and one privately to us. But the question is: Have we gotten more involved in Pakistan other than al Qaeda leaders; and have we gotten more involved in Pakistan that involves more of people who want to be free of their central government?”
“Ultimately, we as a country need to figure out how to end war. We’ve had the war in Afghanistan for twelve years now. The war basically has authorized a worldwide war. Not only am I worried about the perpetual nature of the war, am I worried – I’m also worried about the geographic, that there’s no geographic limitations to the war. But I’m particularly concerned and what today has all been about is that I’m worried that everyone says that the United States is the battlefield now. My side, their side, the President – everybody thinks that America’s the battlefield. The problem is, the Obama Administration in general, and Mr. Brennan in particular also think you don’t get due process on a battlefield. And largely they’re correct. When you’re overseas on a battlefield, it’s hard to have due process. We’re not going to ask for Miranda rights before we shoot people in battle. But America is different. So one of the most important things I hope that will come from today is that people will say and people will listen, how do we end the war in Iraq? How do we end the war in Afghanistan? I tried to get a vote – I did get a vote, I tried to end the Iraq war two years after it ended by taking away the authorization of use of force and I still couldn’t get that voted on. It’s even more important not to end the war in Iraq but ultimately to end the war in Afghanistan. Because the war in Afghanistan, the use of authorization of force, is used to create a worldwide war without limitations; to create a war that some say the battlefield is here at home. This battlefield being here at home means you don’t get due process at home. There have been members of the Senate who stand up and say, when they ask you for a lawyer, you tell them to shut up. Is that the kind of due process we want in our country? Is that what we’re moving towards? So the questions we’re asking here are important questions. And these questions are: Does the Bill of Rights apply? Can they have exceptions to the Bill of Rights?”
Kelly: Excuse me, Mr. Collins?
Kelley: Do you have a photographic memory or something?
Tom: Yes, as a matter of fact, I do, but I’m not using it at the moment – I’m reading all of this from a transcript I looked up on my Blackberry.
Kelley: Well, you see, Mr. Collins, every word of it is… very familiar.
Tom: As I’m sure it must be – certainly your husband would have espoused many of these ideals, principles, concepts and facts to you before he used them in his magnificently convoluted and exquisitely prolix filibuster. In addition, of course, to the numerous exogenous sources he quoted, such as Alice in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll, The Road to Serfdom, by Friedrich von Hayek, Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws, the dissenting opinion in Lochner v. New York, by Oliver Wendell Holmes, The Promise of American Life, by Herbert Croly, On the Unconstitutionality of Slavery by Lysander Spooner, Lord Acton’s letters to Bishop Creighton, James Madison’s Federalist Paper Number Fifty-One, the Right Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Junior’s Letter From a Birmingham Jail, Nineteen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell, The Declaration for Victory or Death, by William Barrett Travis at the Alamo, The Report on Domestic Drones, by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Ten Commandments, by God Almighty…
Kelley: Mr. Collins?
Kelley: That is not what I meant, Mr. Collins.
Kelly: What… what I’m trying to say is, Mr. Collins, that I recognize every single word of his filibuster because every night since he delivered it on the floor of the United States Senate, when he goes to bed with me, he starts reciting it, all over again.
Tom: Hmmm. I see. And you don’t find that… ah, shall we say… exciting?
Kelley: No, no, Mr. Collins – that’s not what I’m getting at! My problem is, every night, he starts reciting it all over again in his sleep!
Tom: Uh-huh. All right then, understood. May I ask, does he snore?
Kelley: No, he doesn’t.
Tom: Okay, then, it could be worse, believe me. Look, it’s only been two or three days, hasn’t it? Maybe it’s just temporary. I’d say, get some decent earplugs and wait it out until it goes away.
Tom: Sure, why not? That’s what a lot of people with partners who snore do, and they don’t even have any hope that it’s ever going to stop, either. You, on the other hand…
Kelley: But Mr. Collins, there’s something else.
Tom: What might that be?
Kelly: Now, after his big filibuster, when he’s awake, he can’t seem to stop talking. Not about what he said in his speech, necessarily, although he does tend to repeat that quite a bit – paraphrased, though, when he’s awake, not verbatim like when he’s asleep – but still, he simply won’t shut up! He goes on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on…
Kelley: Yak, yak, yak, yak, yak, yak, yak, yak, yak…
Kelley: Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah…
Kelley: Yadda, yadda, yadda, yadda, yadda, yadda…
Kelley: Blabitty, blabitty, blabitty, blabitty, blabitty….
Tom: I get the idea.
Kelley: And it’s driving me nuts!
Tom: So I gather.
Kelley: So how can I get him to keep his pie hole closed long enough for my ears to stop ringing?
Tom: I’m sure you must be aware, ma’am, that politicians in general and United States senators in particular are widely known to be in love with the sound of their own voices, are you not?
Kelley: Oh, tell me about it! Listen, Mr. Collins – take my word for it as the wife of a United States senator – this situation isn’t normal, even for someone like my husband!
Tom: Have you… tried anything yet?
Kelley: A couple of things, yes, like waiting five minutes, so it’s obvious he’s going on too long, then dropping a dish on the kitchen floor; or turning up the volume on the boy’s video games so loud it sounds like an automatic weapons fire fight defending New York City from intergalactic monsters is happening in the den.
Tom: No effect?
Kelley: He just keeps on talking right through it; and he doesn’t even notice the dishes.
Kelley: Well – he did make a comment this morning at breakfast that we seem to be running out of them, but otherwise, nothing.
Tom: Well, I’m sorry to tell you this, madame, but it sounds like your husband has Thurmond’s Syndrome. You see, Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina conducted the longest solo filibuster in United States history against passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957 – gave Ike Eisenhower his fifth heart attack while he was at it, too. Thurmond prepared himself beforehand with nine straight days of steam baths to dry him out so he wouldn’t have to go to the bathroom during his speech, and some say his kidneys never fully recovered from the trauma, either. As a result, it’s widely reputed that when he took the floor of the Senate, he looked like a large piece of wind-dried redneck jerky. His filibuster lasted twenty-four hours and eighteen minutes, and after he had been up there so long he couldn’t think of what to say anymore, he read the Washington DC telephone directory into the Congressional Record. Afterward, he talked constantly, both awake and in his sleep, for six months, three weeks and five days.
Kelley: Six months, three weeks and five days?
Tom: Six months, three weeks and five days.
Kelley: And then what?
Tom: He stopped jabbering and didn’t speak a single syllable for thirty six hours. After which, his first words were a request for a plate of fried chicken with hopping john, buttermilk biscuits and a glass of lemonade. So, as you can see, there’s light at the end of the tunnel, ma’am – this you must always bear in mind, and never fear – no one has ever died of Thurmond’s Syndrome, although, as I am sure you can appreciate, plenty of folks have wanted to wring the patient’s neck in the interim.
Kelley: Yes, unfortunately, I can.
Tom: Now, may I ask, have you considered applying reverse psychology?
Kelley: Of course not! Mr. Collins, our family is from Kentucky by way of Texas. We simply don’t think like that.
Tom: Excellent – then the novelty of the approache should only increase its effectiveness. I suggest you try this: wait for him to say something you can tell he obviously thinks is particularly significant, then you and your boys break into wild applause and cheering. And two minutes later, no matter what he’s talking about, do the same thing, and keep doing it at two or three minute intervals for about an hour. Then get out of the house en masse and don’t come back for at least two hours. When you do return, repeat the process, then all leave him alone again, talking to the walls. Finally, around ten or eleven at night, after a solid hour of applause and cheering every two or three minutes in response to whatever he says, no matter how inane, you all go to bed simultaneously and completely ignore him the next day until the boys get home from school, at which time you resume the cycle.
Kelley: Interesting. You really think that’ll work?
Tom: Try it and get back to me if it doesn’t.
Kelley: Fair enough. Thanks, Mr. Collins. What do I owe you?
Tom: If my cure works, can you get me two tickets to the Kentucky Derby?
Kelley: Mr. Collins, if your strategy can get my husband to quit running his mouth, not only will I give you two tickets to the Kentucky Derby, but when you get here to attend it, I’ll fix you and your guest a dinner of fried chicken, hopping john, buttermilk biscuits and lemonade!
Tom: It’s a deal.
Kelley: Oh… wait… I think I hear him coming!
Tom: Okay then, goodbye!